Arles was one of Gaul's most respected cities during the Roman period, with a population of over 30,000 people and monuments that still stand today. Arles is known to be a magical and historic city. The famous and legendary painter, Vincent Van Gogh, settled in Arles. Vincent Van Gogh settled in this magical city in 1888, and he painted over 200 canvases, including his famous sunflowers. Aries is a coastal city and a commune in the South of France. One amazing natural fact about the city is that just upstream of Arles, the Rhône splits into two streams, forming the Camargue delta. The Camargue is a land of wild horses, fighting bulls, widescreen lagoons, and salt pans sweeping out to the Mediterranean. Many Roman ruins are located throughout the city. This is a fantastic opportunity to view world-class ancient sites without dealing with the big crowds you could face in cities like Italy. Arles is a World Heritage Site designated by UNESCO. A multi-site pass allows you to fulfil your desire for Roman wonders while also marvelling at the pieces of art the Romans left behind at the city's museum. Let's have a look at some of the top things to do in Arles.
The Amphitheatre is the most well-known tourist site from the city that prospered in Ancient Rome.The oval shaped Arles Amphitheatre, is a 400-year-old arena where gladiators and chariot competitions entertained the ancients. It features towers protruding from the roof, which are medieval additions. Arles Amphitheatre, together with other Roman and medieval sites in the city, was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981 as part of the Arles, Roman and Romanesque Monuments group. After a couple of decades, in 90AD, the Amphitheatre was built. Clever touches like spaced-out stairs in the arena help manage the flow of spectators in and out of the arena. The Amphitheatre is still used for bullfights and concerts, and it is an important component of the city's cultural life.
19. Abbaye de Montmajour
The Abbaye de Montmajour is an outstanding architectural landmark built in the Middle Ages on the island of Mont Majour. The Abbaye de Montmajour features a pre-Roman tower from the 10th century, a Roman cloister that Benedictine monks built, and an abbey church. All these are famous landmarks in the city that are attractive in their unique way.
Arle’s theatre has been a performance venue for more than 2000 years. The cavea's bottom tiers are still standing, and in ancient Roman times, this would have had extra terraces and could accommodate up to 10,000 spectators. The south tower, which is on the left side of the stage, shows how high the cavea would have been. Two pillars marked "Les Deux Veuves" stand behind the stage which were part of a massive backdrop that featured a three-metre-high Augustus statue. While standing at Arles’ Gallery, you can see a huge model of how the theatre used to look and how the two pillars would have inserted within the exclusive frons.
17. Aqueduc Romain de Barbegal
The Aqueduc Romain Barbegal features the Alpilles mountains, located to the northeast of Arles. This site acted as the ancient Romans’ great water source, which led them to create a wide network of aqueducts to be able to channel the water to the city. This is one of the sites in the city with great history. There are several relics of the aqueduct system to be seen today and the partially overgrown site of the grain mills. It's a fun area to go around and imagine what it might have looked like if everything was still in use.
16. Musée de l’Arles et de la Provence Antiques
This museum in Arles acts as a home to many artefacts recovered from various archaeological sites. A visit to this site complements your tour of Arles's ancient monuments. The Musée de l’Arles et de la Provence Antiques acts as a playground arena for amateur historians, brimming with sculptures, mosaics, early-Christian sarcophagi, and decorative remnants from structures like the theatre. A recent display on the site that will excite your heart is a Gallo-Roman barge that was unearthed in the Rhône in 2004 and is now on display, flanked by its cargo of amphorae.
15. Jardin d’Ete
Jardin d’Ete is a beautiful garden located in the centre of the city of Arles. This garden has been in operation since around 1840. There are shady trees in the garden that offer a perfect area for relaxation on a hot day. In addition, the garden homes some lovely plants with nice, colourful flowers as well as attractive bushes. There are also several sculptures and water features.
14. Van Gogh Heritage
A walking tour around the Van Gogh Heritage will show you around all the locations where Vincent Van Gogh made the 300 paintings in the city. Vincent Van Gogh completed some of his most recognized paintings in the city, like Van Gogh’s Chair. The Foundation Van Gogh is one of the tour agendas, and it covers the tale of Vincent’s stay in Arles and how his style changed and the holding of temporary exhibitions of his art.
13. The Church of St. Trophime
The Church of St. Trophime is located on Place de la République, and it belongs to the city’s UNESCO site. You'll be greeted by one of the most acclaimed sets of Romanesque sculptures in the church, carved in the early 1100s. Biblical scenes, including the Gospel of St. Matthew and the Apocalypse are featured during the tour around the church. If you gaze up at the tympanum, you may see Jesus seated above the 12 apostles, under approximately 40 angels in the archivolt.
12. Cloister at St. Trophime
The church’s cloister deserves its own listing as one of the city’s must-see attractions, and it was built at the same time as the church. The cloister acts as a place for the church’s canons, whose daily regimen mirrored that of monks, away from city life. The northern and eastern galleries of the cloister, which were established much earlier than the southern and western ones, are the most captivating. Each pillar around the cloister tells a different tale, whether it's about Jesus' empty tomb after the transfiguration, St. Stephen being stoned, or Moses seeing God at the burning bush.
11. Thermes de Constantin
The Thermes acted as Roman baths at the beginning of the 4th century. It is located on the banks of the Rhone. The caldarium features three hot pools, which were heated from the ground by the hypocaust systems, and acts as the centrepiece of this site. The baths aren't large, but they will teach you about another part of daily life in Roman Arles.
10. Montmajour Abbey
Montmajour Abbey is a medieval monastery set on what was once an island located in the northeast of Arles. The abbey complex comprises six sections, including the hermitage, the cloister, the adjacent Chapel of the Holy Cross, the fortified Monastery of St. Peter, the Tower of Abbot Pons de I’Orme, and the Maurist monastery. All these sections were built at different times. The abbey is known for its carved-in-the-rock graves from the 11th–14th centuries, its underground crypt, and its vast incomplete chapel. The abbey ruins are now managed as a historic monument by the Centre des monuments nationaux.
9. Alyscamps painted by Van Gogh and Gauguin
During the Gallo-Roman period, the Alyscamps were one of the ancient world’s eminent cemeteries. Alyscamps painted by Van Gogh and Gauguin were placed along the Aurelian Way. This was one of the Roman styles of doing things. Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin had a tense and competitive relationship in Arles, and Alyscamps was the first location where they painted close to each other.
8. Place de la République
Place de la République is a 3.4 ha (8.4 acre) square in Arles. The square features a monument that incorporates a statue of Marianne, the personification of France. Arles’ town hall is located in this square, and the churches of Saint-Trophime and Sainte-Anne are next to each other. The square is made of unique granite found in Asia Minor and, most likely, Ancient Troy.
7. Place du Forum
Although there are no signs of ancient Roman history in this square, Place du Forum is filled with vibrant restaurant terraces shaded by plane trees.Its significance stems from Vincent van Gogh's placement of his workstation in one of the square's corners in the ancient years to work on Café Terrace. People visiting the square early in the morning, when the tables and seats are empty, can spend some valuable time with the statue of Frédéric Mistral, the Nobel Prize-winning writer who lived and worked near the city.
6. Musée Réattu
Musée Réattu is Arles' main museum and is named after Jacques Réattu. Jacques Réattu was born in the city, and when he died in 1833, he left the museum a substantial collection of his paintings and drawings. Eight hundred of his paintings are displayed in 12 rooms of the museum, and three rooms in the museum contain Pablo Picasso’s drawings that he donated in the early 70s.
5. Trip to Luberon Villages
The trip features a full-day private tour to explore the beautiful Luberon villages. The Luberon villages include Roussillon, Gordes, and Ménerbes. During the trip to the villages, one can experience the rocky mountains and admire the stunning view of the Luberon. Afterwards, you visit Roussillon village, which is built on top of an ocher cliff and it offers tourists a perfect combination of man’s constructions and mother nature. Luberon’s village hilltop acts as the entry point to the Lourmarin valley and offers a fantastic view of the Luberon villages.
The cryptoporticus comprises a network of tunnels that the Greeks built during ancient times. There are three twin tunnels placed in a U configuration, and you might be amazed at how well they've held up over time. These tunnels in Arles would have been used as granaries like in other Roman cities, but the ground of these tunnels are too damp for that. In this case, the tunnels support the monuments above and act as homes for the city’s public captives.
Bormes-Les-Mimosas is located in Arles and is a place where people visit and enjoy some scenic views of the city. The Fort de Brégançon, situated in the area,functions as a getaway for France's President. Bormes-Les-Mimosas is made up of a historic village and is geographically located in the hills. The church and the town hall are also significant structures in the vicinity.
2. Camargue Nature Park
The Camargue Nature Park originally came into existence in 1970. It is a protected area that lies along the shoreline of the Camargue in France. The park comprises a marine area, a wetland environment, lagoons, low-lying marshes, and rice paddies. The Camargue is also home to a national wildlife reserve and is classified as a biosphere reserve by UNESCO. The camarguais horse breed survives in semi-feral herds in this difficult terrain and is utilized on farms to help raise fighting bulls for Spain.
1. Barbegal Aqueduct
The Barbegal Aqueduct is a Roman watermill complex located in Arles. It is also known as “the greatest known concentration of mechanical power in the ancient world.” The Roman Aqueduct of Barbegal is located in the Alpilles Regional Park and transported water from the Alpilles Range to Arles, which lies several kilometres apart. It is considered the largest ancient mill complex. The structure of the complex is in ruins, and one has to use their imagination to see a complete picture of the structure. The Roman Aqueduct of Barbegal mirrors the Roman world’s most creative hydropower uses.
Written by Liz Flynn
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